Lost Souls: Putting Together the Pieces

Apart from the hunt-for-hotspots and find-key-to-open-door aspects, which are more like emergent properties than mechanics in themselves, there’s one puzzle type that Dark Fall: Lost Souls uses more than any other: the jigsaw-style assembly minigame. There was a puzzle like this back in Dark Fall: The Journal, but only one. Here in Lost Souls, there’s a torn-up (or cut-up) document of some sort in pretty much every new area you open up.

These documents seldom seem at all pertinent, honestly. There’s a lot of newspaper front-pages and magazine covers, some with scribbles and scrawls on them, like a particular person scratched over in a photograph. But you have to restore them to be arbitrarily allowed to continue with things. The last one I encountered was necessary to get a ghost talking to me, but was it necessary at all? Isn’t this stuff just filler?

Well, mostly, yeah. But I can see some thematic justification for it as a repeated element. Remember that this has turned out to be a game about recovering memories. Piecing together obliterated words and images seems like an apt symbol for that.

What’s more, it dovetails with another repeated image: scissors. I remember a pair of scissors stuck in a wall back in Dark Fall: The Journal. Like so much else that was memorable about that game, Lost Souls turns it up to eleven. Here, the author really wants to club you over the head with symbols, and so fills rooms with them. There’s a room with dozens of pairs of scissors stuck into a bloodstained mattress, and other caches of them besides, sometimes uncomfortably juxtaposed with another repeated image: eyes. You use scissors from that mattress to extract glass eyes wedged into cracks. Your first glimpse of the scissor-mattress room is through a peephole, specifically exposing your eye to the blades in a way that makes the player character express discomfort. Even the main menu is shown on a background consisting of a hallway covered with drawings of eyes, and uses a pair of scissors as the mouse cursor — an uncomfortable UI choice, giving us a pointer with two points!

Scissors combined with eyes yields permanent blindness. This is the game’s threat. But scissors applied to paper produces a loss that can be recovered through diligent effort. This is the game’s promise.

I’m not entirely satisfied with this analysis, though, because in the player’s hands, scissors are more a tool of revelation than obfuscation. You use them to break through barriers, prying up loose floorboards and the like to uncover what the past has concealed. And I’ve recently discovered that you can use them to kill the Gross Things I had been finding, which has a general cleansing effect on the area, removing filth and darkness and opening up new avenues for exploration. But then, the first Gross Thing I encountered turned out to be hinting towards the dire truth, so maybe what I’m really doing there is blinding myself by extending the illusion. But the illusion is the thing I can explore, so I pretty much have to take it.

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